How violence affects children
THE tragic incident of a young boy in Karachi accidentally shooting to death his seven-year-old friend during Shab-i-Baraat festivities on Wednesday should serve as an eye-opener to all those who accept violence as a matter of course and do nothing to curb it.
Little thought is given to the deep imprints that constant exposure to violence leaves on the vulnerable minds of children, who, as they grow older, become desensitised to its devastating effects. Violence has come to manifest itself in every form – not only in acts of crime and militancy. Wars are glorified in our textbooks, and patriotic songs extol the valour of soldiers who die for the motherland. Even our streets are festooned with symbols of conflict, such as planes and missiles. The electronic media is perhaps the biggest culprit in perpetuating images of violence, death and destruction. This encourages children to re-enact scenes of violence, as many did after watching former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s hanging on TV last year, with fatal consequences. Toy weapons, too, are popular among young boys who like to emulate their ‘heroes’ on screen, while in certain areas like the NWFP, the display of guns is a cultural trademark. Meanwhile, children themselves are victims of the worst kind of corporal and verbal punishment in schools, madressahs and at home. All this makes for a society inured to violence.
Another worrying factor is the open display of and easy access to firearms. Large-scale violation of firearm laws has led to a situation where the country is flooded with illegal guns. Even where they are licensed, as in the incident mentioned above, they are carelessly situated, making it easy for children to pick them up. It is admittedly not easy to protect our children from images of violence – although it would help if channels warned their viewers beforehand of a particular programme containing gory images. But much can be done to prevent them from getting their hands on weapons by beefing up gun licensing procedures and cracking down on owners and dealers of illegal arms. Moreover, textbooks can be amended so that, instead of glorifying war, they project conflict as simply a historical fact. Child protection laws can also be strengthened to halt the abuse of children and to punish those who indulge in it. Such steps will heighten awareness and will cause parents and teachers to do all they can to protect children from the pernicious effects of violence.